One of the first things that struck us in Kashgar was the people, so many types of faces and it was if everyone was speaking a different language.
Kashgar, an important centre on the infamous Silk Road, has been an important trading town and cultural crossroads for over 2000 years. It is the heartland of the Uighur people, whose language and culture is more linked with Turkey and Central Asia than China. As well as Uighurs the city is a also a mix of Pakistani traders, Mongols, Kyrgys, Tajiks, Persians, and Chinese.
In the last 10 years the city and area has changed drastically with the opening of a modern road and rail link, which has brought a huge influx of Han Chinese people and modernisation. Most of Kashgar is now a modern Chinese city but the old town and character still lives on.
‘At the end of WW11, Xinjiang declared independence as the Republic of East Turkmenistan, aided by Mao Zedong in exchange for Uyghur resistance to the Nationalists. But after Mao’s founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the fledgling state collapsed when most of it leaders died in a mysterious plane crash en route to Beijing to negotiate with the new regime.
Xinjiang was subsequently declared an ‘autonomous region’, an Orwellian sleight of hand that has failed to deliver much in the way of autonomy. Although China has invested substantial funds developing Xinjiang’s infrastructure, Uyghurs frequently argue that all the good jobs and business opportunities are dominated by Han Chinese’.
Lonely Planet - Pakistan & the Karakoram Highway (2004). 6th Edition.
We got speaking to a Uighur Shoe maker, who spoke excellent English, in the Old Town. He said that he hasn't much work nowadays, everybody is buying the cheap 'imported' Chinese shoes.
In Renmin (People's) Park a Statue of Mao Zedong, one of the biggest in China looms over the square.
We had our ‘17th anniversary’ (celebrating the day we met 7/10/90) at Intizar, a beautiful Uighur restaurant around the corner from our hotel. The huge lavish restaurant was packed, the mix of people was amazing, everyone wearing unique hats according to their backgrounds, Uighur, Tajik, Pakistani, Chinese…
We met Mae, a Chinese girl who lives in New York, at the Seman Hotel. She came with us to book a table for a party/ meal for my birthday, on the 10th October. There was a ‘Uighur music/ dance programme’ happening at the restaurant behind the Seman and we booked a table there, Mae negotiating that we could bring our own wine and booze.
We invited Claudio, Fernando and Lili, and a few others we had met, either travelling here from Pakistan or in Kashgar. There was about 14 of us and lots of booze, many of us had just come from ‘dry’ Pakistan, it was a messy night, which at some point included me dancing and singing to Rick Ashley on a stage in some other club.
We had a great time in Kashgar, staying a week. We made some nice friends their too, including Jon, Zoe and Claire who we met in the busy atmospheric food market. Jon was from Sydney, Zoe from China and Claire from Adelaide.
We were there for the end of Ramadan. Uighurs also call this their holiday. At sunrise it seems everyone flocks to the mosque then feasts in the broad daylight! After 1 month of fasting during the day, they now really go to town and there’s a frantic festive atmosphere around the food stalls of the old town, where people chomp on mounds of flesh, nan bread, fruit… Outside the Id Kah Mosque, Uighurs and other Muslims gathered and danced a piper and drummers played music from on top of the mosque. It was nearly all men dancing but a few women and kids joined in. There seemed to be more people asking for alms, outside the mosque and on the streets. Most were elderly and some disabled. The women had their faces covered with a brown cloth.
The day before we were looking around the Old Town with Jon and Zoe and got talking to a Uighur couple who invited us into their home. They had one very homely room which was their bedroom, living room, and kitchen. We all sat on the rug and they proudly showed us pictures of their family. Jon, had a Chinese to Uighur phrase book and through this and much sign language we sort of understood each other. They invited us to come back to theirs for food on the morning after Ramadan. We took some Watermelon and Grapes and met one of their friends.
Later that day we went up to The Apak Hoja Mazar (tomb), the resting place of Abakh Hoja, one of Kashgar's more popular rulers. Also believed to be buried here is his granddaughter Ikparhan. She is known as Xiang Fei 'Fragrant Concubine' and led the Uighurs into revolt but was defeated and ended up becoming Emperor Qianlong's concubine.
Waiting for the bus from Apak Hoja Mazar we met Amy, a Uighur girl who is studying to be an English/ Uighur Teacher. She invited us into her Grandmothers house which was nearby, and a huge feast was laid out in their best room. Amy came with us to the Sunday markets and helped out as our guide, practising her English.
The infamous Sunday Livestock market may have as many cameras as camels but still manages to feel sort of timeless. Mostly Uighur traders barter for Sheep, Goats, Cattle and most iconically camels.
Our camera lens had been playing up for a while, but luckily Jon another keen photographer let us use some of his lenses. Thanks Jon!